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New Arctic Permafrost Will Disappear Within 70 Years, Study Shows

The thawing of arctic permafrost over the last thirty years has represented important evidence of the reality of climate change and its impact on ecosystems, especially the re-shrinkage of Arctic and subarctic lakes. However, the appearance of permafrost growth on the margins of recently receded Arctic lakes complicates our understanding of how climate change may impact the region.

Research in Geophysical Research Letters explores permafrost growth at Twelvemile Lake in north central Alaska. The team measured the lake’s shrinking shoreline, observed the subsequent succession of new vegetation, and noticed permafrost buildup during the summers of 2011 and 2012.

The authors created a model with the assumption that shade from the new vegetation had a net cooling effect on the lake margins, which caused buildup of localized permafrost. They then simulated the coming century for a variety of possible climate conditions. Under a warming climate, which is the predicted outcome for the next century, the authors found that permafrost buildup would reach a maximum after 45 years and then would begin to degrade and completely disappear after 69 years.